Ah, Google. A product has come of age when people say “What did we do before [product name]?” The search engine itself may have entered the mature cash-cow part of it’s lifecycle, but the company who prides themselves on how they’re quirky and different are now putting a new spin on our favorite topic: product management.
Associate Product Managers (entry level PM’s), as Google calls them, are not grown inside the company from Development or Marketing, nor are they hired from other companies. Well they tried hiring senior product managers from other companies but that didn’t work because the Google culture is so
special cool awesome different that they couldn’t <air quotes>reprogram</air quotes> these erstwhile PM’s for the Goog. Something I’ve always admired about Google is that they’re not about fancy titles or experience, they’re about results and super-smart people. If you can think of a problem related to organizing information, Google probably already has 10 PhD’s working on it. So the natural GOOG thing to do about PM was to put smart people in the job and let them figure it out.
The article talks about how the APM’s are sent into the field to learn about Google’s current and future customers, their problems, and what they think of the Company. Then the APM’s come back and work with their teams to implement their ideas, under the guiding hand of a mentor.
Based solely on the article, here is what I like about what Google is doing: they are putting their people in the field. Nothing is more healthy than direct customer facetime to getting good info into the business, and good info is necessary (but not sufficient) for good products. Second, they are teaming them up with a senior mentor who will guide them to make the right decisions. Three cheers for teamwork.
What I don’t like (and possibly inferred), was how the culture is starting to sound less team oriented and more cut-throat. It’s great to be aggressive but in a company with thousands of employees, if you have to go to the Founder to make a decision to split a skunkworks project off, and basically stalk them because they’ve “jettisoned their assistants,” that’s not healthy. Also, the developers are referred to as the “true royalty” at Google. That’s great and wonderful, and all developers need a good ego stroking. But as Google matures, and their product becomes a commodity, their kingly developers will start to drift. They’re going to need PM to continue to innovate and if they’re taking the “screw you we’re the awesome developers” attitude…well they wouldn’t be the first company to crash because of arrogance.
Last, and probably worst, the Google APM’s deride the encroaching bureaucracy at Google. No one likes the word bureaucracy, it implies red tape and processes, and meetings, ew! Newsflash new PM’s…YOU are part of the bureaucracy! The fact that they even have a product management team is an indication of their maturation. You’ve got to hand it to the founders for keeping the company this flat for this long, but it can’t last forever. All that talent that loves the free dry cleaning and catered meals will stick around. But the real talent that came because of the challenge will be headed to the Next Big Thing.
Who do you turn to when your first round of innovators (developers working on “cool stuff”) leaves? Probably someone who talks to customers and can figure out what they really need…